Approaching Fairyhill

Climbing to the top of Fairyhill, the Killarney Road heads towards Ballywaltrim and the Southern Cross. Fairyhill has a commanding view of Bray and South Dublin. Little wonder that it would become a holy place, with Pagan and Christian resonances. St Saran’s Cross crowns the hill, an early marker of civilisation in Bray. In this painting, Fairyhill is to the right, its entrance through the keyhole like aperture in the dark triangle of shading trees. To the left the land falls away, discreet detached houses front the main road, my estate of Ripley Hills lies just a few steps farther on. The car, heading south, will pull its glow with it, to wherever it is it’s going. There will be a breath of silence as the spirits whisper to the sea and stars, before another traveller passes through.

I found myself on the roof of the world

just waiting for to get my wings

Strange angel in the changing light

said “Brother, you forgot something!”;

Glastonbury Song is inspired by Glastonbury Tor in Somerset, England. Written by Mike Scott, it is from the Waterboys 1993 album, Dream Harder. The Waterboys originated in Scotland but had been based in Ireland in the late eighties. Their Irish albums were identified with a fusion of rock and Irish traditional music, but with Dream Harder they returned to a more rock orientated sound. However Irish references still abound. Glastonbury Song namechecks Carraroe, the mansion on the Boyne and has that wonderful line: Caught the bus at the Faery fort. The song is an ecstatic fusion of the spiritual and the sensual. A critic noted that it takes a special genius to make the line ‘I just found god’ work as a hookline on a hit single.

My heart beat from the inside out

so lucky just to be alive!

Can you tell what I’m talking about?

any day now the Sun’s gonna rise.

I just found God, I just found God

I just found God where he always was.

Rainy Night in Ripley Hills

Ripley 1

Where Killarney Road reaches its apex, a copse of fir trees guards an ancient stone marker, Saint Saran’s Cross. This mystery-laden oasis atop the hill is surrounded by a modern housing estate called Fairyhill. On the falling eastern slopes is another estate, Ripley Hills, which I call home. It was built in 1983 beside two grand houses of the nineteenth century, which were curiously conjoined: Rahan and St. Helen’s. Rahan House was once the abode of writer Arthur Conan Doyle. During his stay he developed an interest in the supernatural and wrote a book called The Coming of the Fairies.

Rahan and St Helen’s were destroyed by fire shortly after I took up residence nearby and I witnessed the sad event from my rear window.  They took their mysteries with them, and their only vestige is a calm green space in Ripley Court. While the urban environment continues to grow, the landscape continues to give. Fabulous views of Bray Head and the Sugarloaf Mountains are always a reward for a walk around Ripley Hills and environs. The estate itself, sylvan and landscaped is a suburban pleasure too. I have been there long enough to witness it beneath blue skies and blankets of snow. But in the dark of night, with rain falling, it is sometimes more magical still.

Something’s gotten hold of my heart

Keeping my soul and my senses apart

Something’s gotten into my life

Cutting its way through my dreams like a knife

Turning me up and turning me down

Making me smile and making me frown

You know the feeling you get when the rain is falling and falling and you stand to look up into it and feel yourself rising up until you reach that point of equilibrium where the rising spirit and the falling water are as one, poised together in endless stasis. A moment like that, held in the sodium glow of the streetlamps, is what this painting is about. Trying to capture it, I reached for a palette richer and more varied than my dark blues and greys. 

Something’s gotten hold of my hand

Dragging my soul to a beautiful land

Something has invaded my mind

Painting my sleep with a colour so bright

Changing the grey and changing the blue

Scarlet for me and scarlet for you

Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart, was written by Roger Greenaway and Roger Cook and was a hit for Gene Pitney in 1967. Born in 1940, Pitney was a singer songwriter who first achieved fame in the early sixties with movie theme songs. Perhaps his best known hit was the intense narrative Twenty Four Hours from Tulsa, a Bacharach David song in1963. His songwriting credits include Hello Mary Lou which was a hit for Ricky Nelson. In 1989 Pitney scored again with Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart in a duet version with Mark Almond. He died in 2006.

In a world that was small

I once lived in a time there was peace with no trouble at all

But then you came my way

And a feeling unknown shook my heart, made me want you to stay

All of my nights and all of my days

In Killruddery Woods

Kilruddery woods

From our last stop, the Bus Stop, Killarney Road makes for the M11 to the southwest. The road to the left is officially known as Oldcourt Park, but known locally as the Soldiers Road.  It runs alongside the ravine carved by the Swan River. Lost amongst the trees, the ancient tower house of Oldcourt Castle looms above, forever beyond reach. The river slithers through Wheatfield, past Swiss Cottage, across the Boghall, up to Southern Cross and on to Killruddery where the brook drains off Giltspur, or the Little Sugarloaf. 

These lands south of Bray were granted to Walter de Riddlesford, one of Strongbow’s loyal adventurers in the invasion of 1169. The large demesne is centred on Killruddery, the Church of the Knight. The Brabazon family came into ownership of the estate in the early 16th century through William Brabazon, Lord Justice of Ireland. The title Earl of Meath was granted to his great-grandson William in 1623. Killruddery House had to be rebuilt following destruction in the Cromwellian wars of the mid century. The current building is largely an 1820s reconstruction in the Tudor revival style. The original gardens remain. Designed by the French gardener Bonet, they are a unique example in Ireland of seventeenth century design, haunted with an exquisite Gothic gloom. Classically inspired additions blossomed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The house and gardens are a popular attraction, with coffee shop, farmers market, garden centre and regular music and art events. There’s an adventure playground and Ireland’s largest obstacle course. Best of all are the walks through the estate, beyond the walls where nature wrestles amiably with farmland and forest. I have variously met friends and strangers, no one at all, amiable vikings and post apocalyptic hippies (these later visions being on film set).

I recently took a path less travelled on the borderline between Killruddery and Belmont. In natural woodland on a sunny day there’s a tangible frisson in the air as light and dark dance with uninhibited abandon, together all alone, but for me. This acrylic is unusual for me in the choice of palette, which is very, very green.

But most of all I miss a girl in Tipperary town

and most of all I miss her lips as soft as eiderdown

again I want to see and do the things we’ve done and seen

where the breeze is sweet as shalimar and there’s Forty Shades of Green 

This song became such an iconic evocation of the Emerald Isle that it is presumed to have originated here. In a way it did. Johnny Cash wrote the song when touring Ireland in the late fifties. Once, after performing the song, a fan thanked him for his respect in singing a grand old Irish traditional air.

Bus Stop


Bus stop, wet day, she’s there, I say

Please share my umbrella

Bus stops, bus goes, she stays, love grows

Under my umbrella

All that summer we enjoyed it

Wind and rain and shine

That umbrella we employed it

By August she was mine

From the Swan River, Killarney Road keeps rising until it tops Fairyhill. Small estates line  the road, most dating from the nineteen eighties. The 145 bus route takes an unexpected right turn at Killarney Lane and the stops before the junction are mine. Across the road, the Nurseries lie beyond a triangular green planted with a copse of silver birch and sycamore. On this side, the western, the footpath runs continuously from the town to the M11. The covered bus stop here is a morning refuge for northbound commuters, whether heading for Bray Dart or Dublin. The 145 connects as far as Huston Station via the N11 and Dublin City Quays. I usually hike to the Dart on my northbound excursions, but the bus has its own consolations. More quaint and communal, and the serpentine route gives a scenic tour of south Dublin. There’s an intimacy too in the bus stop mythology. At least, that was the experience of my generation back in the day. The anticipation, the tension, the longing; and that was just for the vehicle. Love might also blossom, in wind and rain or shine. 

That’s the way the whole thing started

Silly but it’s true

Thinking of our sweet romance

Beginning in a queue

In this acrylic, we approach the bus stop after a heavy shower. The sky is clearing and the surface below us glares painfully, but beautifully. At the junction, the Oldcourt is off to our left, and the nearby right turn heads towards the Ardmore Film Studios on Herbert Road. Ahead, the Killarney Road weaves steeply upwards through a portal of oak trees towards Ripley Hills, and the apex at Fairyhill, crowned with its stand of pines.

Every morning I would see her

Waiting at the stop

Sometimes she’d shop

And she would show me what she’d bought

Other people stared

As if we were both quite insane

Someday my name and hers

Are going to be the same

Bus Stop was written by Graham Gouldman who would later form 10cc. He credits his father with starting  the lyrics from Graham’s own idea. Getting started is the thing. “It’s like finding your way onto a road and when you get onto the right route you just follow it.” A bit like Killarney Road, then. Bus Stop was the breakthrough US hit for Mancunian group, The Hollies, in 1966. I heard it on my first long playing album Hollies’ Greatest Hits (Parlophone) which I got for my thirteenth birthday. 

Bray – Overlooking the Swan River

Swan R 2

At the top of Bray Main Street there’s a fork in the road. Imagine this through time as being something of a village green, with timber frame tavern and monthly fair days. The Old Town Hall from 1881 originally included a covered market and is Elizabethan in style. Picture it in a Tudor setting, or perhaps Dickensian, surrounded by leaning buildings with gabled fronts and muntin windows.

The fork to the left is the coastal route, climbing up to the gap between Bray Head and Giltspur, (the Little Sugarloaf), and on to Greystones. To the right, Killarney Road is the principal route south towards Wicklow Town and Wexford, via the N11. Gothic redbrick houses of the Fin de Siecle line the road out of town, set in extensive gardens behind granite walls.

The road rises towards the massive spire of Christchurch, Bray’s towering landmark. The Gothic revival church, built of stern granite blocks, was completed in 1863 to serve the Church of Ireland community. The tower was added some decades later, the octagonal spire rising to 175 feet is garlanded by stone pinnacles. Christchurch’s imposing presence is further emphasised by its elevation, standing atop the Rock of Bray, the summit of the rising ground that defines the town.

Past Church Road, we crest the hill, and from here the route falls into the valley of the Swan River. This tributary of the Dargle rises in Kilruddery Estate on the slopes of Giltspur, flowing through Oldcourt and past its castle, under the bridge below our vantage point and on to the Dargle. The Swan trails a score of varied woodland along its deepening chasm. A rich mixture of oak, ash, birch, pine and poplar, with some exotics such as Eucalyptus, cloak the area with a sylvan beauty. With the town centre only a couple hundred metres behind us, and the suburban housing estates gathered on the next hill, this spot is like a blink in time, remote from surrounding urbanisation.

This view, rendered in acrylic, is taken from the junction with Beechhurst estate. Christchurch is out of sight to our left, Patchwork Cottage, to the right, and the bridge await below. After a long uphill climb from the seafront or Dart station, it’s a welcome downhill stretch. Past the bridge, the road will rise continually to Fairyhill, surmounted by the ancient, weathered cross of St Sarain, the area’s patron saint. (Killarney is an Anglicisation of the Gaelic ‘Church of Sarain’.)

On this day, a shower has just cleared, veils of cloud are pulling off to the West. Ahead the sun has broken through, turning all it touches to silver.